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NTL to stage UMTS bid for French parent

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France Telecom is to join the bidding for one of the UK's next-generation mobile phone licences. The telecomms giant will be gunning for the contract via its UK partner NTL, and believes the cable group is well placed to beat off the opposition due to its strong market position, according to today's Financial Times. Five UMTS licences are planned to be auctioned off next year. Michel Bonn, chairman of France Telecom, said: "In the UK there are already four licences. I think it would be difficult for us to buy one of those four. "For mobile in the UK, we are aiming rather at the UMTS licence, where it seems to us that NTL –- which is the main competitor for British Telecom in fixed telephony -– is an ideally placed candidate." The French telco giant has a 25 per cent stake in NTL, for which it has to part with $5.5 billion. Bonn's announcement follows the DTI statement in March that it would be putting aside an extra, larger licence, reserved for a new entrant to the market. It will add an extra competitor into the market currently dominated by Vodafone, BTCellnet, Orange and One2One. France Telecom was reported back in April as a possible bidder for the extra licence, along with Tesco, Sainsbury's, Virgin and Deutsche Telekom. The UMTS licences auction had been planned for this summer, but was forced back following problems at the DTI. The next-generation technology will allow mobile users to surf the net, access email or hold videoconferences. ®

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